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Because Befana's household chores kept her from finding the Baby King, she searches to this day, leaving gifts for children on the Feast of the Three Kings.
Posted April 13, 2009
Although Santa Claus has grown in popularity in recent years in Italy, traditionally, Italian children were visited by La Befana for the Christmas season. In Tomie dePaola's wonderful book, the story of La Befana (which is a bit more closely tied to the religious meaning of Christmas than is Santa Claus) is told in a fun, fast-moving, and engaging way.
If you want to teach your children about Christmas traditions from around the world, The Legend of Old Befana is for you. If you are of Italian descent, and want your children to become a bit more familiar with a holiday tradition from their own heritage, The Legend of Old Befana is for you. If you are a fan of Tomie dePaola, The Legend of Old Befana is for you. And if you are just looking for a great book for your kids, The Legend of Old Befana is for you.
Also, be assured that The Legend of Old Befana is a broad enough story to be read outside of the Christmas season, so this is not a book that you would need to put away when the Tree comes down each year.
Finally, as with all of dePaola's books, the drawings are appealing to both children and adults. The illustrations work quite nicely if you are just glancing at the pages, but they are even more beautiful and rewarding if you take the time to look at each page carefully. If you aren't familiar with Tomie dePaola, he's one of the best children's book authors and illustrators working today, ranking right along with talents like Eric Carle, Robert Sabuda and other popular artist-authors.
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Posted March 22, 2013
We've already read The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie DePaola several times in our home. In Italian folklore, La Befana is an old woman (in some regions, a friendly "witch") who visits children on the night before Epiphany, leaving candy and/or small gifts. Befana represents all people who are seeking Jesus.
The stories about La Befana vary greatly from region to region, but Tomie DePaola's version comes closest to the one I learned as a child.
La Befana is a poor, old woman who is a bit of a hermit and always, always sweeping her house. As the Three Kings make their way to Bethlehem, they pass through her village. She is invited to join them, to make the journey to see the Christ Child, but she refuses. She is too busy; she needs to sweep. She soon regrets her decision and changes her mind. She stays up all night baking. She gathers these homemade cookies and cakes as gifts, and brings along her broom so she can sweep for the new mother. However, she learns she is too late; the Kings' procession has already moved on. She tried her best to catch up, but never did. It is said that even today, she is still searching for the baby Jesus. Each Epiphany Eve she sets off on her journey, leaving gifts to all children along her way, in the hopes that one of them will be the Christ Child.
My 3-year-old is enthralled with DePaola's book, as am I. The illustrations are soft on the eyes, but full of color and interest. The text is easy to understand without being dumbed down. The story is worded beautifully, making it just as wonderful a experience for the adult reading the story aloud as it is for the child listening. One can practically hear the procession of the Three Kings approaching her town, the bells tinkling through a light wind. Readers are quickly pulled in to Befana's world; her tendency to be a bit misanthropic and always too busy to put her household duties aside (can't many of us relate?); her realization that she'd made a poor decision; her regret; her determination and perseverance when she changes her mind; her kindness while preparing gifts for the baby; her thoughtfulness in remembering the needs of a new mother.
This is a lovely story, albeit somewhat bittersweet, filled with hope and symbolism. There aren't many English-language books telling Befana's story, but thankfully, DePaola's The Legend of Old Befana is a treasure.
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Posted January 26, 2012
Posted June 25, 2010
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